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TRYING to keep 16,000 students engaged in learning during a global pandemic is no easy feat. In an ideal world, we would still be in the classroom, working towards end of year assessments and exams.

However, we are in a time of complete uncertainty, and technology is helping to build a bridge to the new normal.

Education institutes across the world are having to come to terms with the shift to remote teaching, and it has been wonderful to see the commitment from both students and staff to find what works best in order to continue the learner journey.

Inclusion is a priority at the college and it is more important than ever. While many classes are taking place across Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams, we have seen some lecturers favour the platform Discord, which allows users to join via a multitude of devices, including Xbox and PS4. We’re conscious that some of our learners don’t have access to all necessary IT equipment, and our IT team is working hard to working hard to support students without access to technology to remain engaged with their studies during these challenging times.

Communicating with students has also required some creativity – while much of the working world is glued to their email inbox, students are often far more engaged with other messaging platforms. Taking this into consideration means we are now reaching out to students via WhatsApp for Business and using a bulk SMS message delivery system, both of which have elicited excellent response rates.

In terms of keeping students engaged, we have seen some brilliant examples of class work and interaction. Students studying on the ESOL (English as a Second Language) Transitions to Barbering course have been practicing their core skills by cutting family members’ hair and sharing the results with classmates through our portal, and Transitions to Catering students have been tasked with documenting key stages of cooking, such as chopping, sautéing and grilling when preparing family meals.

Dance students have been filming solos in their living room, music students are having singing lessons over skype, and sound engineering students are collaborating using Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) to stream and plug in directly to platforms like YouTube and Twitch.

There is an acceptance that we’re unlikely to be back in the classroom for at least a few weeks. Instead of seeing the hurdles, everyone is focussing on the opportunities that this new set of challenges presents, and the results are incredibly encouraging… and it’s only the end of week one.